Explosive plays plagued the Falcons defense against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the coaching staff and the players are convinced that’s something they can correct going into Week 2 against the Raiders and beyond.
"The missed tackles in the open field, that was the one that was bothersome, that led up to the explosives," Dan Quinn said Friday.
The Bucs beat Atlanta with a final score of 31-24, and three of Tampa Bay’s four touchdown passes were explosive plays of 20 yards or more.
It’s not reasonable to say that if you remove those 21 points, the Falcons would have obviously won by two scores, because those scores influenced the way both teams called the rest of the game. It is reasonable, however, to think that the Falcons could have absolutely locked up the win if the defense had avoided even one or two of those touchdowns.
The Falcons kept fighting
Free safety Ricardo Allen said he was proud that the team kept battling after those mistakes, but those lapses are on the players.
"The positive thing was, we gave up big plays and ... our defense is built to take away explosive plays," Allen said. "So we did something that’s out of character for us in general. The coaching and all that stuff was perfect, I felt like."
Quinn did see several positives against the Buccaneers that he thinks the defense can build on going forward.
He likes the speed, and he was pleased with the base run defense. The Falcons did hold the Bucs to ninety rushing yards despite the fact that Tampa Bay has two legitimate ground threats in Doug Martin and Charles Sims.
Quinn also liked the way the team was attacking the ball against the Bucs. The Falcons only had one turnover last Sunday, Desmond Trufant’s interception, but Quinn said the team was attacking the ball consistently.
The other thing Quinn’s pleased about is that the issues that led to the loss are things that can be fixed.
"I know that the issues we had are correctable, which makes me feel better, knowing, okay, this guy can’t match or we can’t cover or we can’t play this because of that — that issue is not the case," Quinn said. "We’re going to get those problems fixed."
Allen agreed with Quinn’s assessment.
"Most of the stuff that happened to us was on us," Allen said. "It wasn’t something that we couldn’t correct, so that made me happy about that, too."
Allen was also proud of the way the Falcons kept fighting throughout the game.
"What made me proud as a leader ... is we went out there and we battled, man," Allen said. "Because they jumped up on us. They did, and they came out and they lapped us, you know? But we kept fighting. What I never saw was somebody back down. We fought all the way until it went 0:00."
The Falcons did exactly that.
Those three explosive touchdowns from the Bucs gave Tampa Bay 21 unanswered points. The run started with Charles Sims’ 23-yard touchdown in the second quarter, to Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ 30-yard touchdown in the third, and then culminated in Mike Evans’ 45-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Atlanta’s defense didn’t allow any points to the Buccaneers after that.
They have to make corrections
The outcome was tough to take, but the Falcons know what they have to do going forward.
"No, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but (the way we fought is) a positive, man," Allen said. "We had some good things happen, and we went out there and we got some stops and we were doing good things, but we’ve just got to stop the big plays."
Yes, it’s discouraging to see the defense give up those big plays, and it’s more troubling because it’s something that has plagued this defense for some time. It can, however, be corrected.
Sean Weatherspoon said the team needs to clean up technique issues that led to the missed tackles and contributed to allowing explosive plays.
"Some plays that we could have made, just kind of technique things that we have to clean up," Weatherspoon said. "So we’ve got to keep running and just finely tune up the technique issues and we’ll be perfect."
How the Falcons respond will define them
Weatherspoon said the way the defense played was definitely something they can build on for the rest of the season.
"I know you’re supposed to do this in this business, but we played hard," Spoon said. "We really gave it up for each other and we ran. We got after it. So that’s always a positive, when you don’t have to coach anybody on having to go harder."
It was important for Quinn to remind the guys that losses happen in the NFL. It’s how the team responds the following week that will define them.
Quinn asked players how many of them were born after 1972, the last time any team went undefeated for an entire season, including the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
All of them raised their hands. No team has ever gone completely undefeated in any Falcons player’s lifetime.
"There’s losses, and the resiliency is how you come back, how you fight again and you go battle again," Quinn said. "That’s one of the best parts of the league, like, you’ve got to battle. Every week, you bring it.
Bouncing back from mistakes, correcting technique and being resilient can make the difference for this defense going forward.
"Every play is not going to go your way, right? I missed a tackle. I’ve got to go battle back," Quinn said. "So that part, we’ve got some tough guys, and we can’t wait to show that we can play like our style indicates."
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Oakland scored on just one explosive scoring play against the Saints in Week 1, a 75-yard run by running back Jalen Richard. Missing tackles against any player gives the opponent opportunities to score, and the Falcons can’t afford to miss tackles against players like Richard, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
The team did show resilience against the Bucs. Now the Falcons just have to make corrections.